Welcome to the December 27, 2021 edition of ACM TechNews, providing timely information for IT professionals three times a week.

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U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks during a daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S, December 7, 2021 White House National Security Adviser Asks Software Companies to Discuss Cybersecurity
Jarrett Renshaw; Alexanda Alper
December 23, 2021

White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan has asked major software companies and developers to discuss cybersecurity enhancement, as hacks against U.S. targets this year added urgency to the threat. One exploit compromised over 20,000 organizations via a backdoor patch used in Microsoft's email software, which the government attributed to the Hafnium group with alleged ties to the Chinese government. Cyberattacks have escalated in frequency and impact, spurring the White House to issue an executive order in May that established a review board and new software standards for federal agencies. Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber & emerging technology, will host a discussion in January with corporate officials overseeing open-source projects and security.

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Virginia Family Gets Keys to Habitat for Humanity's First 3D-Printed Home in U.S.
Sara Smart
December 26, 2021

A Virginia family purchased Habitat for Humanity's first three-dimensionally (3D)-printed home in the U.S., constructed in partnership with 3D printing company Alquist. The 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bathroom concrete house was built in just 12 hours for April Stringfield and her son to move into. Janet V. Green with Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg said the organization hopes to continue partnering and developing the technology used with the 3D printing. 'We would love to build more with this technology, especially because it's got that long-term savings for the homeowners," Green said.

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Starship Technologies autonomous robots rolling across a campus. Sidewalk Robots Find Foothold on College Campuses
Bloomberg Businessweek
Kyle Stock
December 23, 2021

Virginia's James Madison University has deployed about 50 Robot 509 sidewalk delivery drones from Estonian robotics company Starship Technologies campus-wide. Such mostly autonomous robots are finding acceptance at U.S. colleges, with students acclimating themselves to machines that service their appetite for snacks and novelty. Starship has provided robots to 22 U.S. colleges; each of its 1,200 drones costs about the same as a high-end laptop, can operate for 18 hours on a single charge, and often runs for days without human interaction. Starship's Alastair Westgarth said the robot incurs no hourly wage, and in Europe the drones deliver groceries. The company expects to deploy about 3,000 new units next year.

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Platform Uses Machine Learning, Mass Spectrometer to Rapidly Process COVID-19 Tests
University of California, Davis
December 17, 2021

Researchers at the University of California, Davis (UC Davis) and the Las Vegas-based startup SpectraPass have partnered on a study of a new rapid COVID-19 testing platform. The scalable testing system identifies an infection by analyzing the different protein profiles produced by a body in response to various types of infections. UC Davis' Nam Tran said the goal of the study, which will involve about 2,000 participants in Sacramento and Las Vegas, "is to have enough COVID-19 positive and negative individuals to train our machine learning algorithm to identify patients infected by SARS-CoV-2." Previously, UC Davis researchers determined the method to be 98.3% accurate for positive COVID-19 tests and 96% accurate for negative tests. The next-generation sequencing panel can identify more than 280 respiratory pathogens, including SARS-CoV-2 and related variants like the flu and the common cold.

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Artificial intelligence researcher Regina Barzilay at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. Is AI About to Transform the Mammogram?
The Washington Post
Steven Zeitchik
December 21, 2021

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Regina Barzilay and colleagues have built an artificial intelligence (AI) called Mirai that can predict breast cancer. Mirai analyzes and cross-references a mammogram's pixels with thousands of older mammograms, to forecast nearly half of all breast cancer incidences up to five years ahead. The researchers trained the AI on 200,000 mammograms, and it would generate predictions and be "penalized" or "rewarded," depending on how well they matched reality. The researchers then applied Mirai to a massive mammogram dataset, and its forecasts were correct an average of about 76 out of 100 cases, indicating 22% greater accuracy and 20% to 25% greater sensitivity over the Tyrer-Cuzick statistical model.

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Illustration of model showing how news spreads on a Twitter-like social network. Systems Scientists Find Clues to Why False News Snowballs on Social Media
MIT News
Adam Zewe
December 15, 2021

A theoretical model of a Twitter-like social network developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) shows how false news travels wider and deeper than more credible news. The model assumes agents only share news with their followers if they believe it is persuasive enough to move others closer to their mindset. The researchers found that the more extreme an agent's perspective or the more surprising the news, the more likely the agent will share it. Further, where the network is highly connected and the news is surprising, the credibility threshold for a news cascade is lower, as when a network is sharply polarized. MIT's Ali Jadbabaie said, "One thing this work suggests is that, perhaps, having some cost associated with sharing news is not a bad idea. The reason you get lots of these cascades is because the cost of sharing the news is actually very low."

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STANN Reveals Insights Into How the Brain Functions
Baylor College of Medicine
Ana Maria Rodriguez
December 21, 2021

Baylor College of Medicine (BCM)'s Dr. Abul Hassan Samee and colleagues developed the Spatial Transcriptomics cell-types Assignment using Neural Networks (STANN) model to obtain novel insights into brain function. Samee said the team applied STANN and other computational techniques to brain datasets of the mouse olfactory bulb, and determined "the precise location of different cell types, whether they communicated with each other, and by which means." The researchers theorize that the brain's morphological layers contain different spatially localized clusters of cell types, and district subtypes executing location-specific functions. BCM's Dr. James Martin said STANN offers an "instruction manual" for scientists to analyze other brain regions or organs.

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light emanating from a system IT Security: Computer Attacks with Laser Light
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany)
December 21, 2021

Researchers at Germany's Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Technical University of Braunschweig, and the Technical University of Berlin demonstrated that physically isolated computer systems can be hacked using a directed laser. The researchers found that hackers can communicate secretly with air-gapped computer systems over several meters of distance, using a directed laser to transmit data to the light-emitting diodes of traditional office devices without additional hardware at the attacked device. KIT's Christian Wressnegger said, "The LaserShark project demonstrates how important it is to additionally protect critical IT systems optically next to conventional information and communication technology security measures."

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AI Points the Way to Better Doctor-Patient Communication
University of California, San Francisco
Laura Kurtzman
December 18, 2021

Doctors generally use language that patients cannot understand, based on an analysis of more than 250,000 secure emails conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, Arizona State University (ASU), and insurer Kaiser Permanente. The researchers used computer algorithms and machine learning to quantify the messages' linguistic complexity and patients' health literacy. ASU's Nicholas Duran said the algorithms analyzed word arrangement, psychological and linguistic properties, frequency, and emotional saliency; patients' ratings of their doctors strongly corresponded with doctors' written communication style. Kaiser Permanente's Andrew Karter said, "Our findings suggest that patients benefit when doctors tailor their email messages to match the complexity of language the patient uses."

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AI Magnifies Utility of Electron Microscopes
Argonne National Laboratory
Joan Koka
December 16, 2021

Charudatta Phatak, Tao Zhou, and Mathew Cherukara at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have developed an artificial intelligence technique to enhance an electron microscope's resolution and sensitivity. The researchers proposed using deep neural network training algorithms to retrieve important data stored in the electron wave, or phase. The approach also enables scientists to retrieve critical data about the electron microscope, as well as recover tiny phase shifts to acquire information about small changes in magnetization and electrostatic potential. Said Zhou, "The fact that we didn't need to add any new equipment to leverage these benefits is a huge advantage from an experimentalist's point of view."

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Coronavirus illustration Model Improves ML Accuracy in COVID-19 Diagnosis While Preserving Privacy
University of Cambridge (U.K.)
December 16, 2021

Researchers in the U.K and China have developed a machine learning artificial intelligence (AI) model capable of diagnosing COVID-19 while preserving the privacy of patient data. The researchers used federated learning to train a model on 9,573 three-dimensional computed tomography scans from 3,336 patients in 23 hospitals in China and the U.K. They tested the framework using two well-curated external validation datasets of appropriate size. Federated learning supported a more generalized AI model to mitigate bias resulting from different datasets, while upholding the privacy of each datacenter in a collaborative environment. Michael Roberts at the U.K.'s University of Cambridge said, "We've shown that encrypting medical data is possible, so we can build and use these tools while preserving patient privacy across internal and external borders."

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Tech Workers Arm Themselves with Salary Data
Tom Giles
December 13, 2021

Technology workers increasingly are gathering salary data amid an environment often hostile to open discussions about employee earnings. Taylor Poindexter, now at Spotify Technology SA, reached out to industry workers via Twitter asking about their compensation. After having a friend break out the statistics in terms of city, specialty, experience level, and organization size, Poindexter found that most respondents earned salaries over $100,000 annually. The survey also revealed that larger companies pay higher average salaries than smaller ones, and that pay levels out for many workers after a decade. Efforts like Poindexter's come after Apple faced accusations from employees that it tried to prevent talk about pay transparency. California, where many tech companies are located, requires employers to provide salary or hourly wage ranges to applicants who have completed an initial interview, and those with 100 or more employees nationwide must file annual reports on compensation.

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